Castel focognano

Castel Focognano appears for the first time in written records in 989, in a contract of sale that mentions the border as the “public street of Monte Focognano”, a place name that thus does not imply the existence of a castle or even a village. We have to wait until 1022 to find the first explicit mention in written sources of the castrum: a diploma from Emperor Arrigo II confirms the "Castle Foconianum" as the Aretine monastery of SS. Flora and Lucilla. A subsequent imperial diploma from Frederick I then testifies that in 1177 the castle was still listed among the possessions of the said monastery. Written sources have then plenty of opportunities to deal with Castel Focognano in the first decades of the fourteenth century: in 1322,  the Bishop of Arezzo Guido Tarlati, after six months under siege, took the castle «by surprise, through an underground passage, knocking down the walls and all sorts of fortification", as claimed by the Repetti, or “by treason”, as claimed by Villani: «the Fiorentini, during the siege, having being asked for help, sent a hundred horsemen; but while they were making war preparations [ ...], the bishop, for treason hatched by Pievano to serve the besieged lords, gave up the castle […], and […] had everything burnt and torn down to the ground». The terrible destruction suffered by the castle on this occasion would even be the origin of the name of the centre, according to the report by the mayor of Castel Focognano, requested by the Napoleonic administration in 1809, also admitting that the castle was thus named even earlier: «It is thought to have been named Castel Focognano after a fire, a name which it had even before the fire of 1320, having probably suffered from another fire earlier on». The origin of the name of the place is in reality more than likely due to the Roman praedial toponymy, one that originates from the Latin name of a person, made into an the adjective by the "-ano" suffix, indicating the ownership of agricultural land: according to Soderi, the personal name in question would be Voconius, according to Pieri, Falconius.

On the tomb of Guido Tarlati in the cathedral of Arezzo, the tomb which celebrates the bishop by recalling the castles he conquered, a panel depicts Castel Focognano: the image shows a circular outer wall, generally round, enclosing another city wall with towers. Subsequently, as reported by Repetti, «after Tarlati, the Bishop Buoso of Ubertini took lordship» and, after the Treaty of 1353 with the Florentine Republic, the Guelph family of Giannellini. The submission to Florence dates back to 1385 and the establishment of the Podestá (chief magistrate) of Castel Focognano dates back to 1404, which affects even the current administrative situation: the town of Castel Focognano still bears this name despite the transfer of the capital to Rassina in 1778. In relation to the material structure of the castle and the archaeological, architectural, historical and artistic elements, a proposed itinerary for visiting the centre may start out from the palace of the Podestá (now rectory) and the adjacent “lodge” , the former an excellent example of architecture and also of sculpture of the early fifteenth century, with elegant columns and emblems, the latter a testament to the following centuries, again thanks to the beautiful collection of stone samples related to heraldry, attesting important and famous Florentine families among those who had administrative positions in Castel Focognano (in addition to the coat of arms of the town of Castel Focognano - the walled castle with crenellated Guelph towers - those of the families of the succeeding Podestá: Strozzi, Donati, Medici, Bradi, Buonarroti).

This architectural complex is the heart of the centre, together with the church of St. John the Evangelist, in its incarnation following the restoration of the eighteenth-nineteenth century, already confirmed in the castle by the second collection of the Rationes Decimarum (1278). Going from the heart of the centre to its outer fortifications, of which important material evidence have been preserved, such as the structure that perhaps itself embodies the symbol of Castel Focognano: the polygonal tower, where the Rural Culture Documentation Centre of the Casentino (Centro di Documentazione sulla Cultura Rurale del Casentino) is currently headquartered. This was a six-faced 11 metre tower; the seventh face was recently built to turn the original border tower into a habitable structure. An open face on the interior was a defensive expedient, common in medieval military architecture, which afforded the advantage of making the tower useful and efficient against an external attack, but militarily unusable on the interior. The tower progressively narrows towards the top; it features a single opening: a circular slit on the northern side. The stonework is rubble masonry with sandstone and limestone cladding arranged in horizontal and parallel lines; the cornered ashlar stones are bigger and display a more accurate finish.

 

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